Revelation 4:1-8 – a visual description of God’s throne room.

SUMMARY

REVELATION 4:1

After these things I looked, and behold, a door standing open in heaven

After the letters from Jesus to the seven churches in Revelation chapters 1 to 3.

and the first voice which I had heard, like the sound of a trumpet speaking with me, said

Jesus’ voice (Rev 1:10, 13)

“Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after these things. 

In Revelation 1, Jesus was standing between “seven golden lampstands,” symbolizing “the seven churches” (Rev 1:12, 20). There, He was on earth. Now, Jesus calls John up into heaven. Chapter 4, therefore, shifts the focus from earth to heaven.

In the view of many people, Rev 4:1 is the rapture of the church. But since Revelation 5 describes Jesus’ enthronement after His ascension, it cannot be the rapture. This is confirmed in Revelation 10, where John personally symbolizes the church, and he is still on earth. It is more likely that Rev 11:12, where the two witnesses are also called to “Come up here,” represents the rapture of the church.

REVELATION 4:2

Immediately I was in the Spirit

John did not literally enter heaven and he does not see a real place; he only sees a symbolic representation of the invisible reality in a vision of his mind.

and behold, a throne

The first thing that John sees, is God’s throne. “Throne” is the main word in chapter 4. Everything in this chapter happens in and around the throne. Revelation 4 is a vision of the governing center of the universe, and the throne symbolizes God’s authority.

was standing in heaven

The throne “was standing” before John saw it. This implies that John is now not viewing one specific event but a timeless description of God’s throne room. Further indications of this are:

        • The four living creatures praise God “day and night” (Rev 4:8).
        • Whenever the four living creatures praise God, the 24 elders join them in worship (Rev 4:9).

and One sitting on the throne

This Person is not named but Rev 5:13 and Rev 6:16 distinguish between “Him who sits on the throne” and Jesus Christ. The “One sitting on the throne,” therefore, is God. (Revelation uses the title “God” only for the Father.) Since He sits on the throne, He has the ultimate authority over the universe.

REVELATION 4:3

And He who was sitting was like a jasper stone and a sardius in appearance; and there was a rainbow around the throne, like an emerald in appearance.

There is a vagueness in God’s description. Other throne visions describe Him in human terms. For example, in Ezekiel 1:26-27, the one sitting on the throne, from the waist up, looks like glowing metal and from the waist down like fire.

God’s appearance is vague because He cannot be seen (John 1:18). He “dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see” (1Tim 6:16). He has created all things that can be seen. He exists outside space, time, and matter. Therefore, the substance of His Being can never be defined in terms of physical things.

REVELATION 4:4

Around the throne were twenty-four thrones;
and upon the thrones I saw twenty-four elders sitting,
clothed in white garments,
and golden crowns on their heads.

Based on the following, the 24 elders are human representatives of God’s people; not angels:

    • Elder” is a familiar Biblical title for human beings but not for angels.
    • Angels never sit on thrones and never wear crowns of any kind but humans do (Rev 2:10; 3:11; 3:21; 20:4).
    • The number 24 is a doubling of 12 and Revelation associates the number 12 with the people of God (Rev 12:1; 21:9-10).

The 12+12=24 elders symbolize God’s people from both the time of the Old Testament and from the church because Revelation merges the church into Israel. For example:

    • Revelation uses Israel’s capital (Jerusalem) as a symbol for the bride of Christ (Rev 21:2; cf. 19:7; 21:27) and, on it, the names of both the 12 “tribes” and the 12 “apostles” are written (Rev 21:12, 14). 
    • The woman of Revelation 12 first symbolizes the Old Testament people of God but, after Christ ascended to heaven (Rev 12:5), she symbolizes the church (e.g., Rev 12:6).

Jesus, similarly, said to His disciples:

In the new world … you … will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Matt 19:28).

In other words, Jesus said that the twelve disciples have become the leaders of the twelve tribes of Israel.

REVELATION 4:5

Out from the throne come flashes of lightning and sounds and peals of thunder.

Since these are things that happen in the air in a thunderstorm, and since they here come out of the throne, they represent God’s decisions. The “earthquake” and “great hail,” that are later added to this trio (Rev 8:5; 16:18; 11:19), represent the earthly consequences of God’s decisions.

And there were seven lamps of fire burning before the throne,
which are the seven Spirits of God

God does not literally have seven Spirits. The number seven is a symbol that is derived from the seven days of the week. As such, the number seven is different from the other numbers in Revelation in the sense that the seven stand in a chronological sequence—the second follows after the first—the third after the second, and so on, with the seventh as the last. The number seven, therefore, should be understood as ‘always’. Consequently, the seven Spirits of God may be interpreted to mean that God’s Spirit is ALWAYS present.

REVELATION 4:6-8

6 and before the throne there was something like a sea of glass, like crystal;

Not a real sea of glass – John is doing his best to describe his vision.

and in the center and around the throne, four living creatures

They represent the angelic portion of God’s kingdom. They are always in close proximity to the throne (Rev 4:6; 5:6; 7:11; 14:3). They seem to be intermediaries between God and the human race, represented by the 24 elders. They are the primary connection between God and creation.

full of eyes in front and behind.
7 The first creature was like a lion,
and the second creature like a calf,
and the third creature had a face like that of a man,
and the fourth creature was like a flying eagle.

The throne vision of Ezekiel 1 also has four living creatures with faces like a lion, ox, man, and eagle/vulture that are full of eyes (Ezek 1:5, 10, 18). Also in that vision, the four living creatures are especially close to God.

8 And the four living creatures, each one of them having six wings

The seraphim of Isaiah 6 each has six wings (Isa 6:2) and, just like the four living creatures of Revelation 4, they constantly say, “holy, holy, holy” (Isa 6:3; Rev 4:8).

are full of eyes around and within

This is not to be taken literally. Their eyes probably represent omniscience, for God knows everything. Since the number four represents ‘the whole earth’, the four living creatures symbolize knowledge of everything on earth.

– END OF SUMMARY – 

BRIEF OVERVIEW OF THE SEALS

The seven seals are described in four chapters from Revelation 4:1 to 8:1. It may be divided in the following parts:

Revelation 4 does not describe any specific event but provides a timeless description of God’s throne room.

Revelation 5:1-4 describes a time when there was a book in heaven that is sealed with seven seals, and nobody was able to open the book. This caused much sorrow (Rev 5:4).

As from Rev 5:5, the atmosphere in heaven changes from sorrow to joy, for Jesus “has overcome so as to open the book and its seven seals.” Then Jesus appears as “a Lamb … as if slain” (Rev 5:6). This implies that we have now reached the time of His cross and that the time of sorrow was the time before His death.

The rest of Revelation 5 focuses on one specific event, namely Jesus’ glorification at His Father’s right hand after His ascension.

In Revelation 6, Jesus breaks the seals of the book. Each time that He breaks a seal, things happen on earth. The fifth seal describes a specific point in time, interpreted as the beginning of the time of the end.

The sixth seal, at the end of Revelation 6, concludes with the Return of Christ (Rev 6:15-17).

The first part of Revelation 7 (Rev 7:1-8) jumps back in time to describe the sealing of the 144000, which happens before the Return of Christ.

Revelation 7:9 picks up where Revelation 6 left off and to describe an Innumerable Multitude standing before the throne of God. This, therefore, is after the return of Christ.

The seventh and last seal is described in only a single verse (Rev 8:1). It says that all the worship and sounds of heaven, which we read about in Revelation 4 and 5, turn to silence for about half an hour. This website interprets this silence as the sorrow in the universe at the destruction of the lost at the end of time.

REVELATION 4:1

After these things I looked,
and behold, a door standing open in heaven,
and the first voice which I had heard,
like the sound of a trumpet speaking with me, said,
“Come up here,
and I will show you what must take place after these things.”

After these things
This phrase often introduces a new vision (as in Rev 7:1, 9). In this verse, “these things” refer to the seven letters to the seven churches, as contained in chapters two and three (cf. Rev 1:19). 

I looked and behold
John did not look with his literal eyes, but in a vision in his mind.

… a door standing open in heaven
This “door” refers metaphorically to an opening in the sky that enabled John to look into heaven. In his mind, he is no longer on Patmos, but at the gates of heaven.

… and the first voice which I had heard, like the sound of a trumpet speaking with me

This refers back to Rev 1:10 where John heard a loud voice, “like the sound of a trumpet,” behind him. When he turned to see where the voice was coming from, he saw a vision of the Son of man among the seven candlesticks (Rev 1:12-18). 

The voice is not a trumpet, but only sounds “like” a trumpet. In Rev 1:15, Christ’s voice sounds like many waters. That does not mean that that is the voice of a different person. These are two descriptions of the same voice.  It is, therefore, Jesus who speaks to John in Rev 4:1. Jesus is absent from chapter four of Revelation but it is He who leads John, in vision, through these visions.

In the first three chapters, John met Jesus ON EARTH, for Jesus was standing between the candlesticks which symbolize the seven churches (Rev 1:20). For that reason, Jesus was “behind” John, not above him. The seven letters in chapters 2 and 3 were also addressed to seven churches ON EARTH. But in chapter four, the scene changes from the earthly to the heavenly.

… said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after these things

This is the second time that the phrase “after these things” appears in this verse. It refers to refer to chapters two and three, which reflected John’s time. From this verse forward, John will be seeing visions of events that are largely in his future. However, past events will also be mentioned to provide context.

REVELATION 4:2

Immediately I was in the Spirit;
and behold, a throne was standing in heaven,
and One sitting on the throne.

Immediately I was in the Spirit
John does not enter heaven physically; he is carried in vision by the Spirit into the heavenly places. John becomes “in the Spirit” four times in the book of Revelation. The first was in Rev 1:10, where he encountered the glorified Jesus. The second is here. The third and fourth are in Rev 17:3 and 21:10. Of the four, this is the only one that calls John into heaven. The others call him to different vantage points ON EARTH where something special happens.

… and behold, a throne was standing in heaven

The main word in chapter 4 is “throne.” This word appears fourteen times in the eleven verses of the chapter. Everything in this chapter happens in relation to the throne. In addition to God who sits “on” the throne (Rev 4:2, 4, 6, 9, 10), we read about things:

      • In the midst of the throne (Rev 4:6),
      • Before the throne (Rev 4:5, 6, 10),
      • All around the throne (Rev 4:3, 4, 6),
      • Above the throne, and
      • Coming out from the throne (Rev 4:5),

The term “throne” is drawn from the governmental language of the time. The person who sits on a throne has the legal authority to rule over some territory or over a nation. Revelation 4 depicts the governing center of the universe, and the throne is the symbol of God’s authority to rule the universe. That authority is grounded in creation (Rev 4:11). God is counted worthy to sit on the throne and govern the universe because He created all things.

There are four major throne scenes in the Old Testament. Revelation 4 strongly alludes to the throne scene of Ezekiel 1. The description of the four living creatures (Rev 4:6-7) and the “holy, holy, holy” of Revelation 4:8 are references to the throne vision in Isaiah 6. Another major throne scene in the Old Testament is in Daniel 7.

The throne “was standing” in heaven. It means that the throne in Revelation 4 “was standing” before John saw it. This confirms that John is not viewing one specific event but a general description of God’s throne room. This may be contrasted with Daniel 7:9, where the throne was placed for a special event.

… and One sitting on the throne

The One sitting on the throne is not named but Revelation 5:13 and 6:16 distinguish “Him who sits on the throne” from Jesus Christ (cf. Rev 5:5-7, 9, 13). The “One sitting on the throne,” therefore, is God the Father. Since He sits on the throne, He has the ultimate authority.

REVELATION 4:3

And He who was sitting was like a jasper stone and a sardius in appearance; and there was a rainbow around the throne, like an emerald in appearance.

And He who was sitting was like a jasper stone and a sardius in appearance

Jasper is translucent and not normally sparkling but, in Rev 21:11, the glory of God is likened to a clear-as-crystal jasper stone. So, there is uncertainty as to exactly what the ancients meant by jasper. The sardius is a reddish, semi-transparent, precious stone.

Jesus is described in much detail in Revelation 1:13-18 but there is a vagueness in this description. Other throne visions are more specific:

    • The one sitting on the throne in Ezekiel 1:26-27 has a human appearance. From the waist up the figure looks like glowing metal and from the waist down like fire.
    • Daniel 7:9 describes “the Ancient of Days” (God). “His vesture was like white snow And the hair of His head like pure wool.”
    • Revelation 5:1 refers to God’s “right hand.”

These visions describe God in human terms. But God cannot be seen (John 1:18). He “alone possesses immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see” (1Tim 6:16). He has created everything that can be seen and cannot be described in terms of things that can be seen.  God does not exist somewhere in the universe.  The universe exists somewhere within God. He exists outside space, time, and matter. He may appear in a theophany, which is an appearance of God, but a theophany is only a faint reflection of not His real full Being. Since space, time, and matter exist somewhere within God, the substance of His Being can never be defined in terms of physical things.

… and there was a rainbow around the throne, like an emerald in appearance.

Does that mean that the rainbow was horizontally around the throne? Or was the rainbow a half-circle vertically arched above the throne, as rainbows are on earth? 

While a rainbow normally exhibits multiple colors from purple to red, the primary color of this rainbow is the green color of an emerald.

In the flood story of Genesis, the rainbow was a symbol of God’s covenant with Noah (Gen 9:12-17), an assurance that He is faithful in keeping his promises.

REVELATION 4:4

Around the throne were twenty-four thrones;
and upon the thrones I saw twenty-four elders sitting,
clothed in white garments,
and golden crowns on their heads.

Similar to the rainbow in Rev 4:3, the 24 elders also are “around the throne,” which should be taken in a horizontal sense. If the rainbow is like a halo horizontally around the area, the 24 elders could be understood as sitting in or under it.

In normal human meetings, the audience sits in front of the speaker but the twenty-four thrones encircle the throne. 

THE ELDERS ARE PEOPLE.

The article on the 24 elders identifies them as human representatives of God’s people on earth.  This is based on the following:

      • Elders” is a familiar Biblical title for human beings. Angels are never called elders.
      • They sit on thrones and Revelation promises that THOSE WHO OVERCOME will one day sit on thrones (Rev 3:21; 20:4). Angels never sit on thrones.
      • They are “clothed in white garments” (Rev 4:4). Revelation promises white robes to the PEOPLE OF GOD (Rev 3:4-5; cf. 3:18; 6:11; 7:9, 14).
      • The 24 elders have victory crowns (stephanos) which is the reward for the OVERCOMERS (Rev 2:10; 3:11) and symbolizes eternal life (Rev 2:10; cf. 2 Tim 4:8).
      • The number 24 is a doubling of the number 12 and Revelation associates the number 12 with the PEOPLE OF GOD (Rev 12:1; 21:12, 14, 17; 7:4-8).

Their thrones indicate that the elders share in God’s rule of the universe. It is wonderful to think that human beings, that love their fellow human beings like themselves, represent humanity in the control room of the universe.

FROM BOTH ISRAEL AND THE CHURCH

The article on the 24 elders shows that the 24 elders are from both the time of the Old Testament and the church. The 24 elders are one example of how Revelation merges the Old and New Testaments by applying Old Testament imaginary to the church.  Other examples are:

      • On the New Jerusalem—the city of God’s people in the new heavens and new earth—is written “the names of the twelve tribes … of Israel” and the “names of the twelve apostles” (Rev 21:12, 14).
      • The woman of Revelation 12 represents both Israel and the church.
      • The Jewish “seven lampstands” become a symbol for the church (Rev 1:20).
      • The key figures of the Old and New Testaments are combined in the song of Moses and of the Lamb (Rev 15:3).
      • Jerusalem, Israel’s capital city, becomes the bride of Christ (Rev 21:2; cf. 19:7; 21:27).

REVELATION 4:5

Out from the throne come flashes of lightning and sounds and peals of thunder.
And there were seven lamps of fire burning before the throne,
which are the seven Spirits of God;

Out from the throne come flashes of lightning and sounds and peals of thunder.

The language here builds on Old Testament ‘theophanies’.  The original theophany was on Mount Sinai (Exo 19:16-20). In the first chapter of Ezekiel, the appearance of God also included lightning and loud noises (Ezek 1:13, 24).  

The word for “noises” (Greek: phonai) can mean sounds in general or it can mean voices, as in Rev 10:3.

This series of words (lightning – sounds – thunder) is repeated three more times in Revelation:

      • Rev 8:5 and 16:18 add “earthquake” to the list.
      • Rev 11:19 adds both “earthquake” and “great hail.”

Since the “lightning and sounds and peals of thunder” are things that happen in the air in a thunderstorm, and since they come out of the throne, they represent God’s decisions. The “earthquake” and “great hail,” on the other hand, are things that happen on earth and probably represents the earthly consequences of God’s decisions.

And there were seven lamps of fire burning before the throne, which are the seven Spirits of God; 

The Greek words translated “lamps” in this verse is different from the word translated “lampstands” in Rev 1:12-13. Whereas the seven “lampstands” represented the seven churches (Rev 1:20), the seven “lamps” represent the Spirit of God. Nevertheless, the concept of “seven lamps of fire” still recalls the Hebrew sanctuary, in which seven lamps of fire were constantly burning (Exo 25:37).

The seven Spirits of God” is here located before the throne of God; apparently subordinate to the “One sitting on the throne” (Rev 4:2).

God does not literally have seven Spirits. The number seven must be interpreted symbolically.  It originates from the seven days of the week, is mentioned many (56) times in Revelation, and is interpreted as a symbol for ‘the full period’.  The number seven in Revelation is different from the other numbers in Revelation in the sense that the seven stands in chronological sequence to each other—the second follows after the first—the third after the second, and so forth, with the seventh as the last or end. The same cannot be said of the other important numbers in Revelation, such as 4, 10 and 12. The number seven, therefore, has to do with time and should be understood as completion or perfection of time—the full period. Consequently, the seven Spirits of God can be understood to mean that God’s Spirit will ALWAYS be with us.

As discussed elsewhere, the number 7 symbolizes fullness in terms of time. The seven Spirits mean that God’s Spirit is ALWAYS with us.

REVELATION 4:6

and before the throne there was something
like a sea of glass, like crystal;
and in the center and around the throne,
four living creatures full of eyes in front and behind.

and before the throne there was something like a sea of glass, like crystal;

It is not a real sea of glass; it is “something like a sea of glass.”  John is doing his best to describe heavenly things in human language.

Glass and glass-blowing were known to the ancients but the ancient glass was often coarse and semi-opaque. In contrast, the reference to crystal emphasizes the transparent clarity of this sea of glass.

The “sea of glass” appears again in Rev 15:2. There it is mingled with fire.

and in the center and around the throne, four living creatures full of eyes in front and behind.

It is a bit difficult to understand what “in the center and around the throne” means. It could mean that the four living creatures move around (cf. Rev 6:1-8; 15:7). It could also mean that they are in the center of the circle of elders; between the elders and the cross. The four living creatures are always in close proximity to the throne (Rev 4:6; 5:6; 7:11; 14:3), which would place them between God and the circle of elders. They seem to be intermediaries between God and the human race, represented by the 24 elders.

THE FOUR LIVING CREATURES OF EZEKIEL 1

There are also four living creatures in the throne vision of Ezekiel 1. There are multiple similarities between the four living creatures in Ezekiel 1 and in Revelation 4. Both Revelation 4 and Ezekiel 1 have:

      • Four living creatures (Ezek 1:5; Rev 4:6);
      • With faces like a lion, ox, man and eagle/vulture (Ezek 1:10; Rev 4:7);
      • Full of eyes (Ezek 1:18; Rev 4:6),
      • A rainbow surrounding the throne (Ezek 1:28; Rev 4:3).

In both, the four living creatures are especially close to God. In Ezekiel, they are the bearers of God’s throne chariot. There are also some interesting differences between Revelation 4 and Ezekiel 1. For example:

EZEKIEL REVELATION
Each of the four living creatures has four faces, one each of man, lion, ox and eagle (Ezek 1:10). Each living creature was like only one of the four (Rev 4:7).
Each of the four living creatures has four wings (Ezek 1:11). Each has six wings (Rev 4:8).
The wheels are full of eyes all around (Ezek 1:16-18). It is the living creatures themselves that are covered with eyes front and back (Rev 4:6).
The four living creatures are under the throne (Ezek 1:26) and are the means by which the throne moves (Ezek 1:12, 15-21). The throne seems stationary (Rev 4:2).

But the two prophets saw the same scene. The prophets did not physically see God’s throne room. These were visions in the minds of the prophets. What detail God gave them may be different from time to time, depending on the purpose of the revelation.

LIVING CREATURES IN OTHER SOURCES

1 Enoch 40:2 (Ethiopic Enoch)—a Jewish book known in New Testament times—mentions four archangels named Michael, Gabriel, Uriel and Raphael. If this is reliable, the four living creatures represent the leaders of the angels. In that case, in Revelation, the first circle around the throne consists of angels and the second circle consists of human beings; represented by the 24 elders.

Ezekiel 10:20 refers to the four living beings as cherubim. This term occurs over 90 times in the Hebrew Bible but only once in the New Testament (Heb 9:5), where they are located “above” the ark of the covenant (Heb 9:4-5).

The four living creatures of Revelation have six wings each. This points to Isaiah 6, where angels, called seraphim, have six wings each (Isa 6:2) and, just like the four living creatures of Revelation 4, constantly say, “holy, holy, holy” (Isa 6:3; cf. Rev 4:8). Revelation 4, therefore, combines features drawn from both the cherubim in Ezekiel and seraphim of Isaiah 6.

INTERPRETATION OF THE FOUR LIVING CREATURES

The King James Version describes the four living creatures as “beasts,” but that is not a good translation. The word for beast represents the animal kingdom and is reserved for the forces of evil in Revelation (Rev 6:7; 11:7; 13:1, 11, etc.). “Living creature,” on the other hand, is a broader term that can represent also angels, birds and humans.

The four living creatures are full of eyes in front and in back. This is not to be taken literally. Their eyes probably represent the omniscience of God, who knows everything that can be known. The number four represents ‘the whole earth’. The four living creatures, therefore, know all things that happen on earth.

In conclusion, the four living creatures are the primary connection between God and creation. They might correspond to the four archangels of Jewish tradition; the leaders of the angels. As such, the four living creatures represent the angelic portion of God’s kingdom, while the twenty-four elders represent the human race before God.

REVELATION 4:7

The first creature was like a lion,
and the second creature like a calf,
and the third creature had a face like that of a man,
and the fourth creature was like a flying eagle.

These features indicate endurance, perseverance, strength and speed. The “face like a man” implies intelligence, relative to the animal kingdom.

REVELATION 4:8

And the four living creatures,
each one of them having six wings,
are full of eyes around and within;

And the four living creatures, each one of them having six wings

Since the living creature of Ezekiel 1 had four wings each, the six wings recall the six-winged cherubim of Isaiah 6; two wings were used to cover their faces, two wings to cover their feet and two were used to fly (Isaiah 6:2).

are full of eyes around and within

In verse 6, four living creatures were “full of eyes in front and behind.” In the current verse, the eyes are “around and within,” which is difficult to visualize. Nevertheless, the meaning is that the vision of the living creatures is not impeded in any way. They were created by God with the highest possible alertness, perception and knowledge.

FINAL CONCLUSIONS

      • God, the Father, has the ultimate authority over creation because He willed and created all things.
      • Symbolizes by 24 elders sitting on thrones around God, God’s people share in His rule over creation.
      • By applying Old Testament imaginary to the church, Revelation merges the Old and New Testaments. Consequently, God only has one group of people from all dispensations.
      • The angels are the primary connection between God and creation.

ARTICLES ON THE SEVEN SEALS

OVERVIEW

REVELATION 4

REVELATION 5

REVELATION 6

    • Seal 1: The white horse is the gospel.
    • Seals 2 to 4: Bloodshed, famine and death
    • Seal 5: Who are the souls under the altar?
    • Seal 6 includes the plagues and concludes with Christ’s return.

REVELATION 7

REVELATION 8

For further reading on Revelation, I recommend Jon Paulien’s commentary. For general discussions of theology, I recommend Graham Maxwell, who you will find on the Pineknoll website.

In God’s throne room, humanity is represented by 24 elders.

SUMMARY

In Revelation, there are 24 elders that sit on 24 thrones all around God’s throne (Rev 4:4). Their thrones indicate that they share in God’s rule of the world. The purpose of this article is to determine who they are.

THE ELDERS ARE PEOPLE.

For the following reasons, the 24 elders are people; rather than angels:

      • Elders” is a familiar Biblical title for human beings. Angels are never called elders.
      • They sit on thrones and Revelation promises that THOSE WHO OVERCOME will one day sit on thrones (Rev 3:21; 20:4).
      • They are “clothed in white garments” (Rev 4:4). Revelation promises white robes to the PEOPLE OF GOD (Rev 3:4-5; cf. 3:18; 6:11; 7:9, 14).
      • On their heads are victory crowns (stephanos) as opposed to the royal crowns (diadêma) worn by rulers over territory. In Revelation, the stephanos is the reward for the OVERCOMERS (Rev 2:10; 3:11) and symbolizes eternal life (Rev 2:10; cf. 2 Tim 4:8). Nowhere do angels wear crowns of any kind.
      • In the book of Revelation, numbers are symbolic. The number 24 is equal to 12 + 12 and the number 12 is associated with the PEOPLE OF GOD, for example:
        – The “twelve stars” of the pure woman (Rev 12:1);
        – The “twelve gates” and “twelve foundation stones” of the New Jerusalem (Rev 21:12, 14), which is another symbol for the pure woman (Rev 21:9-10; cf. 21:17; 7:4-8).

THEY ARE FROM BOTH ISRAEL AND THE CHURCH.

It is proposed that the 12+12=24 elders represent the people of God from both the times of the Old and New Testaments because Revelation merges God’s people from the two dispensations into a single entity. We see this in the following:

    • The New Jerusalem—the city of God’s people in the new heavens and new earth—has “the names of the twelve tribes … of Israel” on the “twelve gates” and the “names of the twelve apostles” on its “twelve foundation stones” (Rev 21:12, 14). The New Jerusalem, therefore, symbolizes the totality of Israel; twelve from both the Old and the New Testament.
    • The “seven lampstands,” which is an ornament from the Jewish temple, become a symbol for the church of God (Rev 1:20).
    • The song of Moses and of the Lamb combines the key figures of the Old and New Testaments (Rev 15:3).
    • The woman of Revelation 12, at first, is pregnant; expecting Christ (Rev 12:1-5); representing Old Testament Israel. After Christ was “caught up to God and to His throne” (Rev 12:5) she continues to exist and to be persecuted by the dragon (Rev 12:6, 14).  She, therefore, represents God’s people from both dispensations.
    • Jerusalem, the capital city of Israel, becomes the bride of Christ (Rev 21:2; cf. 19:7; 21:27).
    • Jesus said to His disciples: “In the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Matt 19:28). In other words, the twelve disciples become the leaders of the twelve tribes of Israel.

HOW DID THE ELDERS GET THERE?

The Cross

At the moment that Jesus died, “many holy people who had died were raised to life. … they went into the holy city and appeared to many people” (Matt 27:51-53, NIV). They did not afterward remain on earth because we hear nothing more of them. Neither did they die again. Paul wrote that, when Jesus ascended, “He led captive a host of captives” (Eph 4:8). The 24 elders could be those who were raised from the dead at the time of the crucifixion.

CONCLUSIONS

It is wonderful to think that human beings, that love God with their whole heart and their fellow human beings like themselves, represent humanity in the control room of the universe.

– END OF SUMMARY – 

Around the throne were twenty-four thrones;
and upon the thrones I saw twenty-four elders sitting,
clothed in white garments,
and golden crowns on their heads
” (Rev. 4:4).

In Revelation, there are 24 elders all around God’s throne. Each of them sits on a throne. Since thrones symbolize authority, and since God rules all creation, it means that the 24 elders share in God’s rule of the universe. In Revelation, they sometimes explain to John what different things mean (Rev 5:5; 7:13). The book of Revelation never tells us WHO they are. So we have to examine the available evidence and make the most appropriate judgment we can on the issue.

There are two major views of the twenty-four elders. Some people see them as a special class of angels, much like the four living creatures. The other view is that they are representatives of redeemed humanity.

There are a number of problems with the angel-view:

      • Angels are never called elders.
      • Neither are they ever depicted as sitting on thrones.
      • Nowhere do angels wear crowns of any kind.

But the people of God are called elders and they are promised to sit on thrones and to receive crowns, as shown below. This provides strong evidence that the 24 elders are human beings:

THEY SIT ON THRONES.

Revelation tends to embed an outline of the next vision in the climax of the previous vision. As discussed elsewhere, Revelation 3:21 is the climax of the messages to the seven churches and provides an outline of the next four chapters. It, therefore, is relevant to the interpretation of Revelation 4. It reads:

To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne” (NIV).

In other words, Revelation 3:21 promises that those who overcome will one day sit on thrones (cf. Rev 20:4). Since the 24 elders do sit on thrones around God’s throne, it implies that they are overcomers.

THEY WEAR WHITE GARMENTS.

The 24 elders are “clothed in white garments” (Rev 4:4). Revelation, fairly consistently, relates white robes to the people of God on earth during the Christian era:

      • White garments are promised to the overcomers in Sardis (Rev 3:4-5).
      • Laodicea does not yet have them but is invited to “buy” white garments (Rev 3:18).
      • The martyrs of the fifth seal receive white “robes” (Rev 6:11).
      • The great multitude is “clothed in white robes” (Rev 7:9) for they “have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (Rev 7:14).

The following refers to CLEAN linen rather than to WHITE garments but are related:

      • The angels in the heavenly temple are clothed in “linen, clean and bright” (Rev 15:6).
      • His bride has made herself ready. It was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints“ (Rev 19:7-8).

In the latter passage, this fine linen is defined as “righteous acts.” Still another related passage is, during the seven last plagues, where God’s people are warned to “keeps his clothes” (Rev 16:15).

THEY HAVE GOLDEN CROWNS.

The 24 elders wear golden victory crowns (Greek: stephanois) as opposed to the royal crowns (Greek: diadêma) of rulers over territory.

In the ancient world, the stephanos was not an emblem of royal authority but a symbol of victory or as a reward for exceptional conduct, for instance, the crown that goes to the winning general. It was often a wreath made of foliage. It is best known today as the crown received by the winner in the ancient Olympic games.

In Revelation, the stephanos is:

      • Associated with conquest (Rev 6:2),
      • The reward for the overcomers in Smyrna (Rev 2:10) and in Philadelphia (Rev 3:11),
      • The “crown of life” (Rev 2:10).
      • Worn by the woman of Revelation 12 (Rev 12:1).

The locusts of Revelation 9:7 also wear golden victory crowns, which supports the notion that the trumpets are warnings by God, through His people, to the world, which the world experience as utter torment (Rev 11:10).

Elsewhere in the New Testament:

      • The word stephanos is also used for the crown of thorns that Jesus wore on the cross (Matt 27:29; Mark 15:17; John 19:2 and 5).
      • Paul anticipates a stephanos crown on the day when Jesus returns (2 Tim 4:8). In this verse, just like in Revelation 2:10, it seems to represent eternal life.

So in the New Testament more broadly, the “stephanos” crown is a reward of the overcomer and associated with eternal life.

THE NUMBER 24

The number 24 could be drawn from the fact that the priests were organized into 24 divisions, each of which served consecutively in the temple for a week at a time (1 Chr 24:1-19). In Rev 5:8, “the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each one holding … golden bowls full of incense.” The incense implies that they function as priests. So, associating the elders with the 24 divisions of the Israelite priesthood is certainly possible.

But it is more likely is that the number 24 arises from a doubling of the number twelve. In the book of Revelation, numbers often have a symbolic role:

      • The number 4 signifies the whole earth (e.g. Rev 7:1; 10:11).
      • The number 7 signifies completeness in time (seven churches, seven seals, seven trumpets, seven bowls). For example, the seven Spirits of God signifies that God’s Spirit will ALWAYS be with us.
      • The number 12 is associated with the people of God, for example:
          • The pure woman has “twelve stars” on her head (Rev 12:1).
          • The New Jerusalem,” which is another symbol for “the bride, the wife of the Lamb” (Rev 21:9-10), has “twelve gates” (Rev 21:12) and “twelve foundation stones” (Rev 21:14). And the height of its walls is 144 = 12 x 12 cubits (Rev 21:17).
          • The number 144000 in 7:4-8 is also derived from the number 12, being 12 x 12 x 1000.

Since 24 = 12 + 12, the root number for the 24 elders is 12, which is the number of God’s people.

THEY REPRESENT ALL REDEEMED HUMANITY.

The names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel” are written on the “twelve gates” of the New Jerusalem and the “names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb” are written on its “twelve foundation stones” (Rev 21:12, 14). The New Jerusalem, therefore, symbolizes the totality of Israel; twelve from both the Old and the New Testaments. It is proposed that the number 24, similarly, is equal to 12+12 and that the 24 elders are heavenly representatives of the people of God in both the time of Old Testament Israel and the era of the church.

REVELATION MERGES THE CHURCH INTO ISRAEL.

Other instances where Revelation merges the Old and New Testaments, include:

      • The “seven lampstands“—an ornament in the Jewish temple—become a symbol for the church of God (Rev 1:20).
      • The song of Moses and of the Lamb combines the key figures of the Old and New Testaments (Rev 15:3).
      • At first, the woman of Revelation 12 is pregnant; expecting Christ (Rev 12:1-5). Here, she represents Old Testament Israel. After Christ was “caught up to God and to His throne” (Rev 12:5) she continues to exist and to be persecuted by the dragon (Rev 12:6, 14).  She, therefore, represents God’s people from both dispensations.
      • Jerusalem, the capital city of Israel, becomes a symbol for the bride of Christ (Rev 21:2; cf. 19:7; 21:27).

THIS IS WHAT JESUS SAID.

Jesus said to His disciples: “In the new world, when the Son of Man will sit on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Matt 19:28, ESV, see also Luke 22:30). In other words, the twelve disciples become the leaders of the twelve tribes of Israel.

For these reasons, the 24 elders in this vision represent all of redeemed humanity both the times of the Old and New Testaments. They are not the tribal leaders or the apostles in person, but representative figures.

HOW DID THE 24 ELDERS
GET IN THE THRONE ROOM?

If the 24 elders represent redeemed humanity, at what point did they enter into heavenly places? Evidence in the New Testament suggests that the elders can be associated with events that occurred at the time of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. At the moment that Jesus died:

The earth shook and the rocks split. The tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs, and after Jesus’ resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many people” (Matt 27:51-53, NIV).

Their existence was noticed as they wandered through Jerusalem’s streets after His resurrection (Matt 27:53). It is unlikely that these resurrected saints remained on earth afterward because their witness would have been a powerful one and widely noticed. Neither did they die again. Paul gave us a small clue.

When He ascended on high,
He led captive a host of captives
” (Eph 4:8).

At His ascension, Jesus was accompanied by “a host of captives,” possibly those who were raised from the dead at the time of the crucifixion. They might be among the 24 elders around the throne of God.

It is possible, however, that attempting to specifically identify the 24 elders with those raised at Jesus’ crucifixion, is being too precise. These representatives for God’s people could have been designated for their special roles in many other ways.

THEY WERE THERE
BEFORE CHRIST ARRIVED.

There is one final challenge to this identification of the 24 elders. If they include people raised at Christ’s crucifixion and who ascended with Jesus, why are they seen in the heavenly throne room BEFORE Jesus Himself appears there?

This is not as big a problem as it might seem at first. The ascension was on the 40th day after the crucifixion (Acts 1:3). Revelation 5:6 implies that Christ arrived in the heavenly court AFTER the Holy Spirit was poured out at Pentecost, which was 50 days after the cross. So, these resurrected saints could have arrived in God’s throne room at least ten days before the great event of Revelation 5.

CONCLUSIONS

It is wonderful to think that human beings, that love God with their whole heart and their fellow human beings like themselves, reign with God and take part in the activities of the control room of the universe.

Full certainty about who these twenty-four elders are is not possible. That they are representatives of redeemed humanity before God makes the most sense in the light of the available evidence.

FINAL CONCLUSIONS

    • The 24 elders in God’s throne room are people; not angels.
    • The number 12 is associated with God’s people.
    • The 24 elders represent God’s people from all dispensations.
    • Revelation merges the church into the Jewish symbols of the Old Testament.
    • God appoints human beings to reign over the creation under Him.

ARTICLES ON THE SEVEN SEALS

OVERVIEW

REVELATION 4

REVELATION 5

REVELATION 6

    • Seal 1: The white horse is the gospel.
    • Seals 2 to 4: Bloodshed, famine and death
    • Seal 5: Who are the souls under the altar?
    • Seal 6 includes the plagues and concludes with Christ’s return.

REVELATION 7

REVELATION 8

For further reading on Revelation, I recommend Jon Paulien’s commentary. For general discussions of theology, I recommend Graham Maxwell, who you will find on the Pineknoll website.